Flexibility and restlessness are the reasons Imax CEO Richard Gelfond believes he was able to take the company from debt and distress to profit and Academy Awards. "High risk, high reward" are words to live by, he said.
"There really is a risk-reward curve in life," Gelfond told CNBC. "If you don't take chances, it's hard to get to the top."
Gelfond took an uncharted path to the top. His career swung from working as a clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit to investment bank Drexel Burnham, before landing at Imax.
"Don't script it too carefully, go with the flow and keep your eyes open to opportunity," Gelfond recommended. "You just have to see the best short-term opportunity that in general gets you to the next place and follow it. Don't overthink it."
The key to success, he said, is having varied experiences in life.
"One of the problems is when you're set in one place it gets hard to move. It takes a lot of guts to move," he said.
Those who do progress should remember that they're not necessarily the smartest person in the room, Gelfond said. When he left investment banking for Imax, he visited theaters and worked in a few in order to get his bearings.
"You really can't run businesses unless you know how it works from the grass roots," Gelfond said, adding that if you think you know another industry, you're probably wrong. "You need to put the car in reverse a little bit and really learn what you're doing and really be open minded."